Timing is everything.
Last Friday, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong was performing at some Las Vegas corporate shindig hosted by the insufferable Ryan Seacrest when, apparently, the seeming contradictions that have plagued Green Day ever since it hit platinum status reached the boiling point. Someone from the gig's corporate sponsor, Clear Channel, reportedly gave the "wrap it up" signal to Armstrong from the side of the stage. What followed was a beautiful expletive-ridden rant that included disparaging allusions to Justin Bieber and culminated in Armstrong smashing his guitar, storming off stage and entering rehab by Sunday afternoon. What a way to kick off the publicity run heralding the release of "Uno!," the first of three new Green Day albums set to drop before the holiday season.
Green Day issued a formal apology, but let's face it the on-stage freak-out was the most punk rock thing the band has been associated with in more than a decade. The trio of Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool's two most recent albums have both been "concept albums," and of late, Green Day has been more often associated with Broadway musicals than with backyard beer blasts or sweaty club gigs. Both "American Idiot" and "21st Century Breakdown" made big drama out of minimal musical information, which may or may not be a stroke of genius, depending on your view of such matters. But punk rock? Perhaps in form, but certainly not in function.
"Uno!" ditches the concept album albatross, and with it, any further tendency among apparently deaf critics to compare Green Day albums to the Who's "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia," which was never fair to either band. It's a straight-up power-pop-punk affair that, aside from the occasional too shimmering and sanitized production, recalls the band's gloriously snotty "Dookie" album.
Green Day is a great live band, a Ramones for Generation MP3, and most of "Uno!" sounds like a great live band playing live in the studio, with a few overdubs and some sonic sweetening.
Armstrong sounds liberated by the fact that he doesn't have to dress up his insanely catchy melodies with "lyrics about important stuff." Instead, he sings about sex, alienation, dysfunctional families and narcissistic frustration. Hallelujah!
Most of the tempos are fast and feature ham-fisted, distorted barre chords in the Johnny Ramone tradition, a la opener "Nuclear Family," a super catchy slab of giddy nonsense."Stay the Night" sounds like the Raspberries and Sweet, only faster and nastier. "Kill the DJ" lightens up on the distorted guitars for a pure power-pop throw-down, replete with faux-ska chorus. "Sweet 16" suggests that the band is more than a little bit familiar with Cheap Trick's "Next Position Please" album.
This is Green Day doing what it does best making lovably dumb punk rock for angry kids of all ages. Obviously, Armstrong is having a tough time reconciling his punk roots with his mega-platinum success. But he should take comfort in knowing that he and his bandmates have made a great pop-punk album against the odds.
Kanye West can add another milestone to his career: He has released a crew album that doesn't suck.
After standing on top of the world with Jay-Z on last year's duo album "Watch the Throne," West is even more generous with the spotlight on "Cruel Summer," the first compilation from his record label, G.O.O.D. Music. West is obviously the main attraction, but he's just one guest at a party crowded with famous labelmates (Kid Cudi, John Legend), superstar visitors (Ghostface Killah, R. Kelly) and unknown hanger-ons who will probably never go further than their unimpressionable appearances here (Malik Yusef, Cyhi the Prynce).
"Cruel Summer" is a hodgepodge, with many talents that aren't matched and many styles that hardly gel. By nature or design, the established stars still end up stealing the show: "Cold," West's fiery solo number, and "Clique," featuring West, Jay-Z and Big Sean, make everything else feel inconsequential. Still, even the most meager offerings Kid Cudi's rambly "Creepers," Legend and Teyana Taylor's ballad "Bliss" are livelier than they need to be, and each track could have at least stood alone as a solid YouTube hit. "Cruel Summer" obviously can't reflect the obsessive grandeur or focus that West imbues on his own beautiful, dark, twisted projects. The sheer mess of disparate voices and genres, though, is a decent honor to West's far-reaching example. This isn't going to progress, let alone launch, anyone's career. It works just fine as a fun, complacent bit of self-promotion which is only fitting, for a record label with a name that compliments itself.
2 and 1/2 stars
Though it is Marcus Goldhaber's father, Gerald Goldhaber, who is best known in Buffalo for being such a constant and valuable source of statistics and statistical analysis, it is his mother who introduced him to the music of the 1930's and 40s that so influenced him.
His soft, sweet gentle voice may remind you a little of Michael Franks. Unlike his previous disc, the music here is all his own. He seems a good deal stronger musically than he is lyrically, which is why he seems to have had no trouble attracting accompanists as gifted as guitarist John Hart, saxophonist Joel Frahm and cellist Erik Friedlander.
The sensitivity and prettiness of this music are both undeniable. It has its moments the title song, especially, seems mildly ironic in its lyrical plainness and even banality. It brings out his most assertive singing, too. Despite his abundant activity in some of the more sophisticated music cabarets in New York, there is a sense in this music as well played as it is that it is on its way to somewhere lustier and more raucous (though you get a sense of that, too, in "Someone in Love" with Frahm taking a swaggering R&B tenor solo). What seems inarguable is that this music would be much more fun (and much more consequential) to hear live than on a disc.
Symphonies Nos. 3 ("Liturgique") and 1
Performed by ?Sinfonieorchester Basel
2 and 1/2 stars
It really wouldn't take much to argue cogently that three of Arthur Honegger's symphonies the second, third and fifth are among the greatest of all 20th century symphonies, up there with Copland's Third, Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms," Ives' Third and Fourth, Vaughan Williams' Third and Fifth, Shostakovich's First and Fifth, etc. etc.
All the more reason, then, that there's something odd about the Swiss master's magnificently wrought Third Symphony on this disc by a great current modernist conductor Dennis Russell Davies leading a first-rate Swiss orchestra being paired with his relatively weak and far less consequential first symphony.
The perfect pairing of Honegger symphonies, it seems to me, is the third with the extraordinary second symphony for string orchestra and trumpet, perhaps his greatest of all, a bleakly but sweepingly powerful war work of unforgettable triumphant impact at its close. (Actually, the second, third and fifth all together would be the ideal single disc if the technicalities made it possible.)
This, then, is a fine disc as far as it goes, but that isn't far enough or in the right direction. J.S.